House of Cards Season Four: A return to the original formula?

House of Cards, having taken its influence from Andrew Davies’ 1990 British series of the same name, has shaken the world of television since its arrival in 2013 and arguably become Netflix’ flagship offering. Series Four continues this legacy in earnest as House of Cards brutally dispatches the competition. (Be warned, this article contains one or two spoilers.)

It was with apprehension that fans awaited Series Four, wondering if Francis would lose his Lady Macbeth, Claire Underwood, or his Presidency first…

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Series’ One and Two were compelling, intricate and at times a little terrifying. Kevin Spacey’s South Carolinian, rib loving, Macbeth-esque character, Francis Underwood eliminated his foes and peered straight into your soul with some very personal pieces to camera. Series Three was very different in mood, Francis now on the back foot having reached his goal only to discover the position not all it is cracked to be.

Older characters return frequently in this Series such as Lucas Goodwin, brilliantly acted by Sebastian Arcelus.

So it was with apprehension that fans awaited Series Four, wondering if Francis would lose his Lady Macbeth, Claire Underwood, (played by Robin Wright) or his Presidency first. At first it seemed the dream may be running its course; Spacey portrays Francis as frantic- he reaches out desperately to keep his power, increasingly at odds with the aides around him. The battle between the Underwoods had begun and was what fans would have expected; calculated, chess like, two vipers circling each other and lashing out erratically.

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However Series Four briefly saw the stagnation of Series Three return, Francis unable to mastermind exciting, yet thoroughly evil steps to power and looking shackled; the political game looking to have ended in defeat and the curiosity of fans to see how far he can go despite being weakened. But House of Cards has become famous for the sudden explosions of action that define the following episodes and change the mood. This time these explosions of activity took all by surprise and in their wake the game is once again afoot. Older characters return frequently in this Series such as Lucas Goodwin, brilliantly acted by Sebastian Arcelus, and show the intent of the writers to capture the essence of the older episodes. The ghosts of Francis’ past battles return in what has to be one of the best episodes yet. The demons swirl and Claire steps up, ascending from sidekick to the rock that Francis must build himself upon once again.

If the Underwoods were running as a couple in the upcoming 2016 Election- neither Trump nor Sanders could stop this ‘power-couple’.

The mood of the Series changed just at the right moment, expertly pushing you to the edge and pulling you in with a return to the masterfully crafted game of one-upmanship seen in Series One and Two, the Underwood’s re-united and taking on all to attain one thing… an Underwood White House.

From the verge of civil war the characters rediscover each other, the two greats of Spacey and Wright in tandem, using each other’s energy and skills to create an incredible atmosphere of anticipation. The best way of describing it is that, if the Underwoods were running as a couple in the upcoming 2016 Election- neither Trump nor Sanders could stop this ‘power-couple’. Even the glamorous, people’s favourite Will Conway and his wife, played by Joel Kinnaman and Dominique McElligott, the Republican candidate, cannot emulate the relationship between Francis and Claire, love without the kisses, marriage without the children, a strange and effective partnership with no limits.

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Series Four is a masterclass in making a thirteen episode series compelling enough to keep you interested. It does so by presenting amazingly varied plots, problems and scenarios- all going in different directions and exploring new challenges. This variety brilliantly exemplifies how complex the characters of House of Cards are. The episodes directed by Wright herself are a particular highlight, usually leaving the viewer with a more intricate insight into the minds of the characters and what makes them tick. Overall it replicates and importantly furthers the successful formula of Series One and Two that had been lost somewhat in Series Three. The end of the Series leaves fans on the brink of something terrifyingly similar to events around us. This contemporary, quasi-topical grounding is an excellent talent of House of Cards that looks set to continue into the coming years as it dominates the growing Netflix arsenal.

By Arran Byers

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